Arjuna Battles Siva
(AZADI KE PANKH CREATIONS )
After having lost their kingdom and all their wealth to their cousins in a manipulated game of dice, the five Paandava brothers, with their wife Draupadi, went, in accordance with the terms of the wager, into twelve years of exile, to be followed by a year of incognito existence.
Arjuna set up his penance spot in a harsh, mountainous region in the middle of a forest. He wished to observe austerities and please the gods and obtain from them the knowledge of the Divya Astras. He began with observing penance to please Siva the Destroyer and gain from Him the incantation to invoke the Pashupataastra, Siva's own deadly weapon. The Pashupataastra was capable of vanquishing creation and was meant to be used only against an equal or more worthy opponent. It was the missile Siva employed to annihilate the satellite cities of Tripura and Arjuna felt it would be more than a handy tool to have in his quiver.
He established a lingam and spent all his time adoring it and singing to it. He set his beloved Gandeeva bow aside and sang and danced in front of the lingam for days on end, composing hymns in praise of the Destroyer.
On Kailasa, Siva's mountain abode, Siva and Parvati observed Arjuna's devotion and they felt compelled to grant him his desire. However, Siva was not about to impart the knowledge of His potent missile to the human without first testing him for his worthiness. He told this to Parvati and She was amused. She decided to accompany Him to where Arjuna was to see how the Paandava fared in the test.
Meanwhile, by fate's wonderful design, a boar-demon by the name of Mooka Asura entered Arjuna's penance spot, threatening to defile it. The demon charged at the unarmed human, who first tried to defend himself with his bare hands. The boar overpowered him and Arjuna was forced to relinquish his penance and take up his bow. He strung it and notched an arrow. He drew the string to his ear, waiting patiently as the boar ran around, trampling the hermitage and wreaking havoc. Just when the boar came within his range, he released his dart and the diabolic beast fell dead. However, where there should have been only Arjuna's arrow piercing its body, there were two.
This surprised the Paandava, who looked up to see a tribesman standing some distance away, with a bow in his hand. He was a kiraata, a mountain hunter and by the look of him, seemed like a chieftain. He was uncouth in appearance, clad in garments of flesh and fur, his head decorated also with such materials, and yet there was something handsome about him. It was as though the Sun had taken refuge behind dark, grey clouds, but not enough to hide its presence completely. The kiraata was accompanied by several tribal women, some his wives by marriage and others probably concubines.
Arjuna took in the man standing in front of him in all his grandeur and then claimed the hunt to be his. The tribesman laughed. He proclaimed that he shot the boar first and that Arjuna shot a dead animal and was being petty enough to claim it to be his game. His companions sneered and mocked the Paandava.
Arjuna, wielder of the mighty Gandeeva, acclaimed to be the best bowman in all the worlds, son of Indra, disciple of Drona, felt slighted by the mockery being sent his way by the tribal folk. He wished to establish his superiority over his rustic rival and challenged the latter to a duel. The kiraata chief gladly obliged and the two bowmen drew their arms. Arjuna sounded a resounding twang on his Gandeeva bow that would strike fear in the hearts of all those who did not fight under the same banner as him. However, the kiraata chief only smirked and notched an arrow to his obviously less renowned bow. The two marksmen fired at each other and the tribal found it very easy to intercept each of Arjuna's arrows and paralyze him with a volley of his own. Arjuna broke free of the arrow-prison but it cost him all his strength and skill to do so. He felt weak and drained of all energy.
He put down his bow, turned away from the hunter and went instead to his Siva lingam. He drew three lines on it with his hand and placed a fresh garland of flowers around it. This infused him with vigor and he took up his bow again.
What he saw then was enough to knock his breath out of his lungs. The kiraata chief stood in front of him with the three-line mark on his forehead and the same garland around his neck that Arjuna had just adorned the lingam with.
Realizing that He who stood before him was the deity he had been trying to propitiate, Arjuna immediately laid down his bow and fell at the hunter's feet.Siva assumed His own form, as did Parvati and His attendants who had all assumed the guise of the women accompanying the hunter.